One of the interesting aspects to the start of the Mississippi State Baseball season is the fact we really don’t know what to expect from this team in 2017. Sure, we know some of the players, but there are so many new faces it will take time to determine who is the best at playing each role.
On top of that, with a new coach in place who has never filled out a lineup card or set a weekend rotation, we don’t fully know what philosophy Andy Cannizaro plans to employ. But thanks to some things he has said in preseason, plus the offensive output the Tigers put up in two seasons with Cannizaro as the hitting coach, we can draw some conclusions on what to expect. And it can be described in one word.
Cannizaro has said on a few occasions when addressing the media he wants the team to be aggressive. This has been a constant theme when ever he has been talking about the upcoming 2017 season.
When Cannizaro was the hitting coach at LSU in 2015 and 2016, he was given a significant amount of control over the entire offense. And if you look at the numbers from 2014 to the 2015 and 2016 seasons, you can see how Cannizaro employed that same strategy for the Tigers.
In 2014, the LSU Tigers were a good offensive team, but they became a much better offensive team under Cannizaro’s instruction in 2015 and 2016. LSU saw gains in batting average, home runs, slugging percentage, on base percentage, and most importantly, runs scored. While all that is well and good, it doesn’t necessarily translate to aggressiveness.
There are two stats from LSU that can though. In 2014, LSU stole 49 bases on 74 attempts. That’s a little over one stolen base attempt per game. In 2015, the Tigers attempted 166 stolen bases and were successful 130 times. The number went down slightly in 2016 as the Tigers successfully stole 95 bases on 137 attempts. LSU attempted a little over two steals per game with Cannizaro calling the shots of the offense.
The other number that shows his aggressive philosophy is the number of strikeouts the team racked up. The Tigers struck out 274 times in 2014, but saw that number jump to 341 the first year Cannizaro took over. That is concerning, but in 2016, the number reduced to 316 as the Tiger hitters were learning what Cannizaro expected of them.
For 2017, I would expect to see a lot of growing pains. The Bulldogs were not active on the base paths in 2016. The team only attempted 63 steals so expect that number to go up significantly. How successful they are initially will play a large part in determining how much Cannizaro continues to push the envelope. I don’t expect him to completely back away from it even if the team struggles early on.
The one concerning thing is there is a very good chance the team will strike out more in the first season under Cannizaro. The Bulldogs struck out 378 times in 2016, an average of six times a game, and it could eclipse 400 in 2017. I’m not too concerned simply because when you’re learning a new philosophy, it will take time to adjust. The Bulldogs will have opportunities in the non conference portion of the schedule to figure things out.
Cannizaro will try his best to put an aggressive team on the field which causes the opposing pitchers to be in high pressure situations on a consistent basis. While it might not be as pretty or clean initially as fans might like, it should lead to an exciting brand of baseball when the kinks have been worked out.